New Kitchen Knives and Sharp Kitchen Knives

IMG_3589Guilty. I’ve let my kitchen knives get dull.

Yes, even me, the one who tisks at clients’ dull knives. I could give you excuses, but that’s all they are.

A couple of years ago, I dropped my favorite Wustof 8-inch chef’s knife and the tip broke. My knife sharpener reshaped it for me into a sort of santoku. I thought this might work because Seppi Renggli, the longtime executive chef of The Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan (until 1990) used to purposefully break the tip off his knives. But the balance on my Wustof was thrown off so it sits, sharp, but wrapped, in a drawer.

Since then, I’ve used a replacement chef’s knife that I’ve never liked as well. And I’ve added to my collection with a Wustof santoku. But it was dull and beyond my repairing with my various knife sharpeners. My regular knife sharpener, Jivanos, is closed on weekends. Plus the blade is beginning to pit. Can you see where I am going with this?

I didn’t until I walked into the little cooperative market on Cortland Street in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. There I discovered Bernal Cutlery run by Josh Donald and Liz Douglass. Not only do they sharpen knives (two-day turn around partly because he sharpens by hand without the aid of grinding wheels or other machines and partly because he’s busy), they sell vintage kitchen knives and new knives from smaller producers such as the Japanese knives from MAC. The shop shares space with several other small operations: a deli, a bakery (try their cookie sandwiches!), and more. We also found a new butcher shop up the block carrying all grass-fed, humanely raised meat. Bernal is worth a culinary expedition to explore its length and breadth of shops, bakeries, and restaurants.

It wasn’t long before I’d fallen for the MAC 8-inch chef’s knife. And then, since I’d broken down a whole chicken that morning and wondered if a knife better suited to the task than a utility knife would improve my results, I chose the MAC boning knife. You can’t be casual around these knives—they are too sharp.

IMG_3591Whenever you have a chance, do talk to professional knife sharpeners. They can really guide you to what you need. For instance, the first knife I considered Josh said was too fragile for cutting through chicken joints. I needed something sturdier. And he gave me choices: an inexpensive, vintage, classic boning knife or the MAC. It’s intriguing shape, balance, and sharpness sold it.

Only then did I get around to asking about sharpening. And learned about the difference between the whetstone (sharpening) stone I’d bought way back in the 1970s that you oil before use; and a Japanese whetstone stone, made of a ¬†softer stone that needs just soaking in water before use. ¬†“After a few hours of use,” Josh advised, “you need to hone the edge.” And no, the old stone wouldn’t work because by now its pores “are probably clogged with oil,” and it’s too coarse for the Japanese blades. And no, my equally old steel also would not work. So now I have a Japanese finishing stone and my Wustof santoku is sharp again. And my first professional sharpening Bernal Cutlery will do for free.

My new MAC chef’s knife has already been busy earning its keep, mincing shallots, garlic, ginger, and chopping tomatoes for a kale-arugula curry. I have fallen in love with its sharpness, lightness, and ease of use. As Liz promised, I can chop faster, more neatly, and with less fatigue. And that adds up to more pleasure in the cooking process.


Thanks again for a great boost in getting our kitchen functioning. What a difference! I can actually get implements out of the drawer without a struggle. I made a carrot salad for dinner with no hassle because the Cuisinart was at hand to shred the carrots! Yay!

-Francesca Bannerman, SF

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

Contact Penni Wisner